Values-Centered Leadership® and the Vector

One way of looking at our lives is to appreciate that excellence or high performance anywhere—in our personal or professional lives—is achieved when we do these three things exceptionally well:

  1. Attain great levels of competence (Mastery),
  2. Build deep and enduring relationships (Chemistry), and
  3. Serve others (Delivery).

Almost any activity in which we engage can be classified under one or more of these three headings. Try thinking of something that you do in your personal or professional life that is not comfortably contained within the one of these three descriptors: Mastery, Chemistry, or Delivery. These three are called the Primary Values.

The definition of the Primary Values is:

  1. Mastery: Undertaking whatever you do to the highest standards of which you are capable
  2. Chemistry: Relating so well with others that they actively seek to associate themselves with you
  3. Delivery: Identifying the needs of others, and meeting them

We achieve these three Primary Values by practicing the Accelerators, which propel the Primary Values in this way:

  1. Mastery is achieved through Learning, defined as: Seeking and practicing knowledge and wisdom
  2. Chemistry is achieved through Empathizing, defined as: Considering the thoughts, feelings, and perspectives of others, and
  3. Delivery is achieved through Listening, defined as: Hearing and understanding the communications of others

These last three are called “Accelerators,” because they accelerate the Primary Value with which they are linked. For example, to achieve greater Mastery, we need to commit to greater Learning. We call this combination Values-centered Leadership®.

Achieving Mastery, Chemistry, or Delivery cannot be achieved by wishful thinking alone. There are concrete actions and steps that we can each take that, when purposely applied, will lead to the enhancement and growth of these three Primary Values. To achieve greater Mastery, we must engage in new Learning. Similarly, if we wish to build greater Chemistry with people, we must first Empathize with them. And meeting the needs of others—Delivery—is best achieved by Listening for those needs.

These six little words are incredibly powerful because they propel all human progress, innovation, relationships, and achievements. There is nothing in the world that we cannot accomplish if we learn something new that leads to greater Mastery, empathize with others that leads to greater Chemistry or listen to the needs of others to achieve greater Delivery.

The Vector

It is possible, (but not essential), to assign numerical values to these questions. For example, you might ask, “How do you feel about your Mastery today?” You might get an answer such as, “It feels like around a 10 for me today.” You might respond, “What about your Learning?” and the response might be, “It really feels like a 6 today.” Hidden in these responses is a magic formula we call “the Vector,” which the dictionary defines as “a quantity possessing both magnitude and direction.” If you subtract the Primary Value (in this case Mastery at 10) from the Accelerator (in this case Learning at 6), the resulting number is -4. We call this a negative Vector of 4 (see the figure below).

The example above suggests that there is insufficient Learning to achieve greater Mastery—a 6 in Learning is not sufficient to sustain a 10 in Mastery. One could go further: the current level of Mastery cannot be sustained by this lesser level of Learning because the lower power of Learning will lead to an ultimate decline in Mastery. In our different roles across all aspects of our lives—at home, or at work—as leader, coach, artisan, spouse, parent, friend, or anything else—we can use this formula—the Vector—to guide us into a valuable conversation, an inspiring check-in: “What do you think you need to learn in order to achieve greater Mastery?” Notice that this is a nonjudgmental, noncritical, conversational exchange designed to inform both parties and enable them both to grow—based on questions, not judgments or lectures.

Interpreting the Vector – The Inspiring Check-in

The Vector is a forward indicator. This makes it very different from most assessment tools which are usually snapshots of history, looking back over six or 12 months, for example (backward indicator). On the other hand, the Vector takes account of the current situation (a Mastery level of 10 in the above example), recognizing that the current situation is simply the result of the past, and, at the same time, acknowledges that we are equally interested in the future. Furthermore, in the example above, the negative Vector of -4 predicts a future where there are insufficient levels of Learning to propel current levels of Mastery. Since the Vector is negative, it is also signaling a future decline of Mastery. This can result in a rich opportunity for deep and constructive conversation—an inspiring check-in. Since both parties are familiar with the methodology, there is no need to explain it all; there is a natural rhythm to the conversation—a comfortable, inspiring check-in, which both parties understand to be completely constructive and forward-looking.

Welcome to the concept of an inspiring check-in—a non-judgmental way of conducting empathetic, inspiring conversations that are exclusively dedicated to the needs of others and to providing you and them with more meaning, fulfilment, self-esteem, effectiveness and inspiration in your work and home life.

First described in “The Way of the Tiger: Gentle Wisdom for Turbulent Times” and updated in “The Bellwether Effect”, this is an exceptional coaching model, and a valuable tool for anyone coaching, mentoring or guiding others—at work, or at home and personal life. Wallet-sized Vector Cards can be found here.

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The Shifts

The Primary Values on the back wheel provide Power and Acceleration to our lives—and our organizations. But our motives can be flawed unless they are tempered by the shifts on the front wheel that provide our Direction. Most of us are familiar, to a greater or lesser degree, with the back-wheel values; we simply need to increase our practice of them. This cannot be said of the front-wheel shifts; they are qualitatively different. Most of us are not committed practitioners of the shifts on the front wheel—in fact, we need to shift from an “old-story” approach to a “New-Story” one, and therefore we call the front-wheel values “shifts.” They are:

  • A shift from me to YOU: focusing more on the needs of others than our own
  • A shift from things to PEOPLE: valuing people more than material things
  • A shift from breakthrough to KAIZEN: celebrating the importance of doing things better just as much as doing them differently
  • A shift from weaknesses to STRENGTHS: building on our strengths just as often as searching for and criticizing weaknesses
  • A shift from competition and fear to LOVE: inspiring and motivating each other with love instead of fear and competition

The Definitions of the Shifts:

From me to you. We are emerging from one of the most self-absorbed eras in human history. The personality-driven way is dangerously egocentric and counter-productive. Values-centered Leadership® is other-centered and seeks collaborative win-win combinations. It assumes that when we help others to grow, find fulfillment, and experience joy, we all win. It recognizes that a proposition that is good for me but bad for you is, in the end, bad for both of us. It pursues a concept of oneness, honoring the sacredness of others and favoring a holistic, systems approach in which the members of any team are keenly aware of their impact on all other parts of the system. The Higher Ground Leader thinks in even larger terms, because for them, you includes everything else—people, the environment, and the universe. To the Higher Ground Leader, the shift from me to you assumes that a customer is more than a walking credit card, and an employee more than a means of production, and a river more than a discharge site—because they are all you.

We are all in service, meeting the needs of family, friends, employees, customers, suppliers, communities, and our world, and if we do so brilliantly, all the time, we will be rewarded with advocates—dedicated and loyal colleagues, friends, family and employees who no longer dread life and work, but celebrate its rewards and have fun living and doing it. In our work lives it results in a growing crowd of customers who become our word-of-mouth marketers; and a support team of suppliers who love doing business with us and partner with us for success. More importantly, a shift from me to you offers a much-needed balance to the preoccupations flowing from our personalities, by shifting our focus from an exclusive emphasis on ego, metrics, politics, and power to honoring the sacredness of others, serving them and our planet.

From things to people. The Bernies—Madoff and Ebbers—established the low point of questing for things at the expense of people. The genius of Western philosophy has been our unsurpassed ability to acquire, measure, analyze, and count materiality—things. But in revering analysis and acquisition, we have forgotten that all organizations and institutions are the sums of people, not of things. In fact, they are even more than that—they are the sums of the human spirits within them. It is the soul that inspires and becomes inspired, not things. Now, we must return to our true reason for our existence by shifting away from our unhealthy addiction to things to a renewed commitment to people. The “things” approach only obeys hierarchy, order, politics, metrics, procedures, policies, manuals, formal systems, and structure. The “people” approach seeks to honor the heart, respect the soul, and lift the spirits of all—while being effective at the same time.

From breakthrough to kaizen. The favorite heroes of management gurus are breakthrough specialists: great inventors, entrepreneurs, promoters, and marketers. They are the hares who turn their innovative breakthroughs into personal fortunes, but we need to celebrate tortoises, too—and just as passionately. As Aesop said, “Slow and steady wins the race.” There are two ways to grow: by innovation and breakthrough (finding a different way) and kaizen (finding a better way).

The capacity to do the same thing a little bit better every day may not look like a spectacular achievement in the short run, but it is in the long run. The Japanese call this kaizen (kai: better, and Zen: good) or “continuous improvement in personal life, home life, social life, and work life, involving everyone.” But it is not simply a Japanese idea; it is an intelligent idea. It is an attitude that honors the act of micro-excellence achieved through daily personal Mastery and Learning.

Many people (and companies) use kaizen techniques to achieve unheard-of improvements in quality and outcomes. The Sony plant in Terre Haute, Indiana, which manufactures computer parts for Sony video games is an example. It now manufactures 2,715 products per person-hour, where just one year ago, thirteen operators were required to manufacture 369 products in the same time. It produces twenty-seven million parts each month, and these efficiencies have been achieved without any layoffs. But continuous improvement (kaizen) has wider application than the workplace: it is just as important in our personal lives—in our relationships, personal growth, politics, education, health and wellness, and spiritual development. To continuously improve in every aspect of our lives is to continually grow, and this is how we remain relevant and vital. At home, an example of Kaizen might be this very important question, “How might I love you more?”

From weaknesses to strengths. Researchers claim that during an average business meeting, each idea introduced is met with nine criticisms. According to Dr. Marilyn L. Kourilsky, former dean for teacher education at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education, 97 percent of kindergarten children in the United States think creatively, only 3 percent form their thoughts in a conforming, structured manner. By the time they complete high school, the balance has begun to shift—46 percent think creatively, while a more rigid, structured style is preferred by 54 percent. The process of losing our individuality, passion, and creativity is completed in the workplace: by the time we are 30, a mere 3 percent enjoy the freedom of practicing holistic, original thought processes, while 97 percent of us subject all our thinking to a structure which screens for orthodoxy, social correctness, and conflict avoidance—a process for which Irving Janis coined the term “groupthink.” In other words, we begin our lives with a learning, open, and curious attitude, but eventually we fall under a spell of creative and spiritual impotence—the journey from learners to knowers. We do not start out thinking like “old-story” leaders—it is something that we acquire. By criticizing, judging, and finding fault with the ideas of others, and with our own self-judgement, we suck the self-esteem from the souls of others as well as ourselves and therefore our families and organizations. We pounce on our flaws, missed targets, projects that are delayed, or budget overruns, and fail to celebrate our strengths or study and perfect our successes. By mistakenly placing our faith in the Aristotelian notion that by attacking ideas we will strengthen them, we have perfected the skills of the ego and abandoned the gifts of the soul. But imagine if every person and every organization devoted as much passion and time to building on their strengths, to celebrating what is working more than criticizing and judging what is not—our souls would begin healing until we became extraordinary and inspired.

Psychologist James Loehr, who has helped to train, among others, tennis great Martina Navratilova, has studied what the best tennis players do when they take a 20-second break between points during a match. Loehr discovered that mediocre players use that time to react to the previous point—scolding themselves after a missed point, for example. The best players, Loehr found, spend the time preparing for the next point, relaxing, energizing themselves, planning their strategy, and tuning their minds.

From Competition, Hostility, and Fear to Love. Much of our life is laced with metaphors of war (chocolate cake to die for; the war on drugs). Many businesses dedicate enormous amounts of people-power, time, and energy to the objective of defeating opponents, crushing competitors, and creating losers. Modern leadership language is laced with metaphors of war and aggression, and team members often feel like faux warriors on a quest to conquer competitors in the battle for market share. Of course, none of this is inspiring. It is frightening. While the social self (the ego) may become engaged with these metaphors, the essential self (the soul) recoils. War is anathema to the soul. Life is more than an endless competition in which we are all gladiators at some level, seeking to vanquish our opponents, who, the social self conveniently forgets, are sitting at the next desk or across the breakfast table, or riding home with us on the train.

Life is not a battleground—it is a playground. War or the fear of losing does not inspire people. We would rather have chocolate cake to dream for than to die for. Extraordinary accomplishments or performances are inspired and romanced from people, not beaten out of them. If we love what we do (Mastery), love the people with whom we do it (Chemistry), and love the reason for doing it (Delivery), would we still call it work? People are inspired to do what they do well by the love they feel for what they do (Mastery), the people they do it with (Chemistry), and their reasons for doing it (Delivery).


The front-wheel shifts, then, are modifiers for the Primary Values and Accelerators on the back wheel. For example, we might rate a “10” in Mastery as the finest con artist in the world, but if we only score a “1” in the shift “from me to you,” the quality of the Mastery is devalued and questionable.

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